Cup 38

Person: Seth Godin 

Drink: House Coffee in NYC

There is a passage in Seth Godin's latest book, Poke the Box, that goes like this:

Take action. Move forward. The world doesn’t have room for standing still anymore. You have to innovate. Take initiative.

Take initiative.  
Which, interestingly enough, was how I ended up sitting across from Seth in Le Pain Quotidien, a delightfully fresh French-style bakery in Manhattan enjoying an incredibly fresh croissant with a dollop of organic chocolate spread Seth plopped on my plate and insisted I try because it, “puts Nutella to shame”.
I can replay the moment in my head like a movie; the atmosphere, the colors of the restaurant, the sound of the rain outside—and its one I won’t soon forget. How could you forget the day you sat down with a New York Times Best Selling author (13 times over) for whom you have great respect and find great inspiration.

The story actually starts five weeks ago while I was returning from a Wyoming wedding. I was in Chicago waiting for my connecting back to Detroit when they announced the flight was oversold and they were looking for volunteers to take a later flight. I raised my hand. Rerouting through Nashville and arriving in Detroit four hours behind schedule seemed like a small sacrifice to make in exchange for a $440 dollar travel voucher to anywhere the Southwest flew.

The real difficulty was deciding where to go with my newly acquired funds. And turns out, that wasn’t a difficult choice either. A mutual friend knew I was a big fan of Seth’s work and said if I could get to New York City, he could possibly set up a meeting for the two of us to have coffee. That was all I needed to hear. I sent some emails, booked a flight, and a few weeks later found myself sitting in front of Seth proving that his manifesto for taking initiative works.

I was excited to learn about Seth and the path that has led to where he is today; however, our conversation took a different route. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Seth is well known for his unconventional thinking so it makes sense our conversation would also be unconventional. He wasn’t interested in outlining his path to prominence—his recipe for becoming a successful entrepreneur, CEO, author, and game changer (if you’re not familiar with Seth, find out about him here).

The reason is that he, like every other success story out there, had a unique set of circumstances and skills with which to work. A set that I, nor anyone else, can replicate because I also have my own unique set of skills and circumstance. A more relevant use of time was talking about the mindset he developed in the process. He was interested in helping me identify places where his insight might be beneficial to me as I progress in my career. I was moved—and grateful—for his genuine interest in helping me succeed.

The ironic part is that much of our conversation was about failure.

Seth told me he failed a lot before he hit 30 and pointed out that I’d be well served if I got a few failures under my belt as well. He wasn’t suggesting I set out to fail. He was suggesting that the best ideas and opportunities are the ones off the beaten path and finding them requires taking (calculated) risks and a willingness to push boundaries. Getting failure under your belt shows your striving for something.

His advice resonated with me because it’s something the past 37 conversations have helped me realize. When I started this project in July, I was a soon-to-be college senior feeling the pressure to find the perfect job by the time I graduated from college. I figured my first job was the first step of the rest of my life and if I screwed up I’d let a lot of people down and ultimately ruin my future. It feels silly to write that now, but at the time, I really believed it.

Luckily, all these conversations have shown me life isn’t black and white—right path or wrong path—it’s a changing shade of grey and constant challenge to make the most of the opportunities life presents. And figuring it out requires failing a few times. Around Cup 32, I realized that with the right mindset and degree of perseverance, failure becomes an opportunity for growth instead of a scary dead end.

I went from being afraid to fail to accepting I was bound to fail at some point. Seth took the idea one step further. Not only did he tell me its alright to fail, he encouraged it. He knows from his own experiences that failure often breeds incredible success. When you aren’t afraid to fail you open the door to possibilities.

Failure often occurs where curiosity and courage collide. Something sparks your interest and you find the courage to explore the new idea. Then, because you rarely get anything right on the first try, it doesn’t work, or at least not the way you expected. You fall down.

But then you pick yourself up and move forward having learned something and grown in the process. You get to approach the same problem from a smarter perspective. It’s like learning to ride a bike. No one expects you to do it right on your very first try. You have to fall 100 times in order to succeed. In fact, the you fall, the faster you learn—push a boundary, fail, learn, try a new route, repeat.

Somewhere along the line, probably grade school, failure becomes a bad thing, something discouraged and avoided at all cost. But as Seth said, testing ideas and pushing boundaries—going through a 100 ideas that don’t work—is the best way to find the one (remarkable) idea that does.

However, knowing that doesn’t make being okay with failure any easier. There is a part of the brain that tries to keep us from pushing boundaries. Seth’s book, Linchpin, explains it much better than I do, but ultimately the idea is that biomechanics kick in to protect us from dangerous situations. Hundreds of year ago, dangerous situation meant a possible encounter with a saber tooth tiger. Today its more likely to be a job interview or term paper. It never fails that right before I sit down to write something, I suddenly think of three things that really need to get done before I can start writing. It’s my brain’s way of creating
resistance, trying to stop me from something that could lead to failure.

In order to beat the resistance, you have to keep fighting it, keep pushing against it, keep trying new things. Seth told me even after years of writing best-sellers and running successful companies he still feels it. But he has gotten much better at recognizing when its sneaking up on him, which helps him beat it. Essentially, it’s hard for everyone, so keep fighting.

Looking back on the meeting, the advice Seth gave me sounds like a lot of work—fighting resistance, getting rejected, learning from failure—but when I left our meeting, I was filled with an incredible energy. Seth gave me a wonderful gift. He gave me permission to get into trouble, make some mistakes, get my hands dirty. He knows that curiosity and courage will lead to something great.

And I believed him, because it was curiosity and courage that motivated me  to volunteer to get off that plane in Chicago and plan a spontaneous trip to New York City for a chance to meet someone I admired. I could have taken the comfortable route and stayed in my seat, not raised my hand, but I would have missed out on an incredible experience.

Cup 38 and Seth’s advice reaffirmed my actions and gave me the fuel necessary to keep starting projects, making a ruckus, taking risks, traveling, meeting people, asking questions—and ultimately look for good ideas.

Of course, in the process, there will be failure. But what’s so bad about that.